A Republican-aligned group is making a new push to turn the tide of GOP opinion on US aid for Ukraine as Congress gears up for what could be a major spending fight when it returns from recess next month.
“Republicans for Ukraine,” a project of the conservative non-profit Defending Democracy Together, is launching a $2 million campaign that will include an ad airing nationally on Fox News during next week’s Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the first time GOP candidates will face off.
Nearly 18 months since Russia’s invasion, polls indicate waning support among Americans for the US to continue funding Ukraine’s war effort. Since the invasion began, the Biden administration has committed some $43 billion in US security aid for Ukraine.
President Joe Biden has cast support for Ukraine as imperative to protecting the world’s democracies. But not all Republicans agree, and neither does a growing portion of the American public.
In a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, 55% of respondents say the US Congress should not authorize additional funding to support Ukraine, including 71% of Republicans. And 51% say that the US has already done enough to help Ukraine, including 59% of Republicans. A poll conducted in the early days of the Russian invasion in late February 2022 found 62% of Americans felt the US should have been doing more.
“We feel some sense of urgency. Broadly, we do focus groups with Republican voters and we have noticed a drop-off in support for what we think is a traditional Republican issue,” Gunner Ramer, a spokesperson for the project, told CNN Tuesday.
The group behind the campaign, led by conservatives and so-called never-Trump Republicans Bill Kristol and Sarah Longwell, warns that former President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies have eroded what it says are traditional Republican values.
Looming spending fight
This all comes ahead of what’s expected to be a major fight in Congress after the White House requested $24 billion in supplemental funding for Ukraine. White House officials are confident the requested funding will ultimately get the congressional backing it needs to make it to Biden’s desk.
But a major concern among Ukraine supporters in Congress this summer is what a precarious position they might be in down the road – especially if public support falters heading into a bigger showdown over funding the government that could play out before year’s end.
In the Republican controlled House, there are increasing signs of GOP resistance to more Ukraine funding, with Speaker Kevin McCarthy signaling earlier this summer that he plans to block any Senate efforts to boost assistance for Ukraine. That puts him at odds with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has actively been working to tamp down concern abroad that Republicans are losing interest in backing the effort.
The $2 million campaign is expected to be the first in a series of continued efforts aimed at boosting GOP support for Ukraine heading into the 2024 election.
“I hope it really sends a signal to GOP leadership and Republicans broadly that it is a traditional, conservative, Republican value – and that still exists within the GOP,” said Ramer.
Testimonials from voters
The group’s ad will feature direct-to-camera testimonials from Republican voters. The $2 million will also pay for digital YouTube ads, plus 10 billboards spread across the Milwaukee area featuring the faces of Republican voters.
“I’m a Republican. I support Ukraine. GOP: Don’t Let Putin Win,” says one of the billboards, with a photo of Republican voter Robert Nakai.
“I’m a Republican. The GOP can’t side with Putin,” says another, featuring Republican voter Brock Cordeiro.
Ramer added that Trump has influenced the party’s base, reshaping it as “broadly speaking, more protectionist and less interested in the rule of law and Democratic institutions.”
Recent polling data “points to the fact that the Republican Party has just fundamentally changed, and we think that is alarming,” Ramer said, pointing to what the group views as a need to make a grassroots appeal featuring “everyday Republicans” supporting Ukraine.
Due to the group’s 501(c)4 status, it is not obligated to reveal its donors, but Ramer characterized support for the project as “a wide range” of “grassroots” and other “pro-democracy” donors.
CNN’s Lauren Fox, Kevin Liptak, and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.